Evidence for an emotion maintenance deficit in schizophrenia : implications for motivated behaviors

A common symptom in schizophrenia is amotivation, which has been linked to lower quality of life and deficits in cognitive functioning. Currently, however, the underlying mechanisms of amotivation are not well understood. The present study investigates emotion maintenance, or the ability to maintain information from an emotional experience, as one potential mechanism of amotivation. Twenty-eight patients with schizophrenia and 19 healthy comparison subjects participated, as part of a larger ongoing study, in a laboratory-based computer task judging intensity of emotionally evocative stimuli after a delay. Following this emotion maintenance task, participants rated the emotional experience of each previously viewed stimulus individually. All participants completed analogous tasks judging brightness of neutral stimuli. Patients with schizophrenia also completed an additional visual working memory task and a series of clinical interviews. Findings indicate that, relative to healthy controls, schizophrenia patients have difficulty maintaining an emotional experience when explicitly instructed to do so, even when controlling for visual working memory. Maintaining an affective state is likely an integral part of goal-directed behavior, and deficits in this area may be a future target for treatment.